And while we’re on the subject of water …
The 'Manse' in Crissay-sur-Manse.
Did you know that the first English patent for a ‘washing and wringing machine’ was issued in 1691*? Of course, it was still manually operated and did little more than swirling the laundry in the water that had previously been poured into the wooden tub. Although the performances of the machines improved over the years, women in rural areas continued using the municipal ‘lavoir’ or washing shed well into the 20th century.
The sheds were erected over large natural or artificial basins in which the water of a spring was collected. Sometimes they covered part of a fast running stream. Sitting on their knees near the edge of the water, the women scrubbed and rinsed the clothes. It was extremely labour-intensive work. However, it was a necessity and they tried to make the best of it by chatting and exchanging the latest gossip.
Today the ‘lavoirs’ have become part of the architectural heritage of many a village. The old buildings, which have been carefully restored and embellished, are often considered as one of the villages’ major tourist attractions. During our travels in France and the south of Belgium, I’ve seen plenty. And on a hot day like today I liked rinsing my hands or soaking my feet for a while in the ice-cold water.
The 'lavoir' in Crissay-sur-Manse.
During our after-lunch walk in Crissay-sur-Manse we saw a sign indicating the presence of a ‘lavoir’. This came as a surprise to me as I have visited the village on two previous occasions and I had never known that it had one. While most of these washing sheds can be found near the village centre, this one was located at the end of a dust road that led to the ‘Manse’, the little stream to which Crissay owes part of its name. It was a simple, yet neatly kept building, with heavy wooden beams and a solid wooden door. The fast running water was crystal clear. There were no washing stones though and the level of the water was too low to reach from the bank. We wondered how the women were able to do their washing here. Maybe they just stood in the water, although in winter that would have been very, very uncomfortable. Or maybe the stones had been removed. There was no one around we could ask, so I guess we’ll never know.
(*) Source: Wikipedia